This book has been called the best in 30 years by some (is that from a press release?), so the question is, is it? Well, that is a bit of a disingenuous claim because the books of the last 30 years have been pretty average-with the possible exception of Asterix and the Secret Weapon. The last really good book in my opinion was Asterix and Son (1983) so it ain't the best for 32 years! My verdict is that it's better than the last one, but is still flawed.
It's at this point I should cry a hearty SPOILER ALERT! I'm going to tell you about some good bits and some bad bits that might, just might, give away tiny details such as the ending, so if you haven't read it yourself, do so first. The most important question first: is the book funny? Yes, for the most part. There's an extended bit about horoscopes and believing what you read-Obelix's horoscope affects him throughout the book giving him a fresh problem and some humour to work with. The special unit of Romans that follow the Gauls across the country is quite funny-the appearance of the bear is one of the best jokes, as is when the Roman lets his pigeon go and forgets the attachment- it resonates because we've all done it, and it's funny when applied to ancient communications. Impedimenta has a great cameo-after reading her horoscope she is even more of a dragon than usual, shouting over poor pompous Vitalstatitix, "Blah blah blah!"
Speaking of characters, Confoundtheirpolitix the Assange simulacrum, is rather underdeveloped. He's enthusiastic and driven but so want? Ferri maybe could have made him extremely paranoid-Assange lives in a paranoid world-to give him a bit more comedy. There's one moment when he starts thinking in headlines which feels like a half-finished joke. It calls to mind the tax inspector who speaks in tick-box forms from Asterix and the Cauldron, but that joke is carried right through the scene. Similarly the main enemy, Blockbustus is underdeveloped-that he hates hardship seems to be his only defining trait. I do love his butler Pridanprejudis. He's stoical and Jeeves-like although it has to be said he doesn't really do much. A bit of a wasted opportunity.
Lastly (of the good bits), Archaeopterix the old Druid is a nice conceit-he's a sort of senile super-computer, and the ending with the stories getting passed down to Goscinny and Uderzo is a lovely tribute. Now we come to a few of the problems, the first of which is an odd scene with the pirates. They aren't even sunk! Even in Asterix's most land based books the Pirates are scuttled in some way, and what do they hang on to the carrier pigeon for? They never appear again so we'll never know! It's just a confusing incongruity in the story-simply a way for the pigeon to never make its destination.
But that pales into comparison to the completely stupid solution to the story-the 'emergency measure' for when the village is really in trouble, Cacofonix's moomoophone. Cacofonix blows it when everything is going wrong, and the emergency warning travels all the way, person by person, to Getafix, Asterix and Obelix who then have to drink a special magic potion to run all the way back in record time to save the village! There's never been an emergency measure mentioned before, nor do the villagers actually need it as there's magic potion under Vitalstatistix's chair. Couldn't Cacofonix have had a secret network of bards to call Getafix-that might have been more logical. Did Ferri write himself into a corner by having Asterix and Obelix so far away from the main action? It just seems badly thought out.
So what is this book missing? Asterix! He hardly has a role to play at all, and when he does come up with a plan to cross the river, for no dramatic or plot-advancing reason it's immediately abandoned. Seriously, he isn't needed at all apart from to beat up the special unit, which Obelix could have done had he not been avoiding conflict because of his horoscope. Obelix himself is really only here as comic relief. Getafix needs accompaniment on his journey of course, but in this book that's the only role our heroes perform-bodyguards. Ferri must use Asterix and Obelix better than this in future.